Debate over the Town Centre Renewal Plan (TCRP) remained robust in the Inverell Shire Council’s first civil and environmental services committee meeting of the year.
Although construction works have already begun on Otho Street, a small group of community members attended the meeting to express their distress over the plan during the public forum.
Babs Lorraine owner Roslyn Hulbert brought attention to a letter submitted to the council last week, signed by 65 local businesses, and noted that a response has not been given. The letter criticised the TCRP and demanded compensation for financial losses.
Mrs Hulbert asked if the council would waive their rates to provide compensation for businesses during the construction period.
She noted that Otho Street business LB Hot Bread have closed their doors from Wednesday, February 14 to Wednesday February 21. A sign on the door indicates that the closure is due to the roadworks.
Mrs Hulbert said she had “grave concerns” for the area between her store and the Salvation Army, where a plane tree had been removed. She said community members often made use of the shady area to sit and rest. Mrs Hulbert requested that the council installs a shade cloth or something similar.
“There’s not many people here today, but the response of the community every single day is not in favour of this. And you need to listen to the ratepayers, because at the end of the day, us as ratepayers are paying everybody’s wages in the council,” Mrs Hulbert told the committee.
“If we go broke, you have no CBD area.”
She said that many businesses were already noticing financial losses, and that pedestrian traffic had decreased significantly.
Lucinda Fleming also spoke against the TCRP.
“This group has agreed that we have absolutely no confidence in the general manager and the mayor for the way in which they have ignored the business people and ratepayers of Inverell, in respect to the Town Centre Renewal Plan,” she said.
Cassie Walls requested to speak during the public forum and said she did not realise she needed to make a submission to council before the meeting. Chairwoman Di Baker said that it was against protocol, but made an exception due to the “angst” over the issue.
“I just think that obviously this has gone about and people weren’t aware, or whatever it may be. They haven’t had the opportunity to express their opinions, whether they’re for it or against it,” she said.
She suggested putting the works off for a month in order to find out the businesses’ main concerns and find ways to mitigate the negative consequences. Ms Walls suggested switching to night roadworks to avoid disrupting pedestrians.
“I agree that the town needs to do things, to move forward and attract more people, but I just think there’s other things that we could be doing,” she said.
Ian Foster also spoke to the committee of his memories of the trees being removed and replaced in previous years. He questioned why the raised crossing was being removed, and said it was “working perfectly”.
Councillor Mal Peters discarded part one of his initial motion, which called for the council to not proceed with Otho Street works, feeling it was “redundant”, as the work has already begun.
He moved for management to explain in writing why the public was informed of road closures prior to final Roads and Maritime Services sign off. This motion was passed.
Cr Peters’ second motion, that the council immediately undertake a comprehensive Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), was the subject of much debate before it was lost.
“Council’s taken absolutely no regard to the human impact of these business people sitting around the table,” he said. He said the rating of economic impact as ‘low’ in part five of the Environmental Planning Assessment Act was “the most appalling piece of work I’ve ever seen in my life”.
Cr Peters argued that the engineers who completed the assessment were not qualified to judge economic impact.
He said that an EIS would have been compulsory if the TCRP was presented as eight segments, instead of Otho Street on its own.
“It is a complete project, we got all the arborists etc to come in and have a look at it, and the whole thing was assessed as a complete process of eight segments,” he said.
Councillor Stuart Berryman argued that the TCRP had a long history, which included community consultation in many forms. He said that advertisements were run in The Inverell Times calling for community members to take part in town centre renewal working group in 2013, which he joined. He said there were two representatives from the Chamber of Commerce in the group, and he expected that they would have informed the chamber, and therefore most businesses, of the plan.
“This subject has been raised probably five to six times in the last 12 months and been defeated every time. The opinion to go ahead with it has gone through on those five occasions,” he said.
“The first thing I wanted to do when I got on council, I was told by a former councillor, former businessman in this town – you’ve got to learn to count and you’ve got to learn to compromise.”
Cr Berryman questioned why, as a councillor and former businessman, he did not receive any phone calls from concerned businesses on Otho Street prior to an informal protest last month.
Councillor Neil McCosker said he found this statement “trying” and said that he had fielded many calls.
“Now I wonder why I would have received calls and Councillor Berryman wouldn’t. I think that the majority of people knew full well that they might as well be talking to the wall, with respect to Councillor Berryman, because they would know which way he was leaning,” he said.
Cr McCosker said he was vehemently opposed to the construction, which he described as “vandalism”.
“It seemed to be that the majority of the councillors had this $700 000 burning a hole in their pocket that we’d saved that we must spend, and let’s get off the blocks and start cutting trees down before anyone can raise issues to stop it,” he said.
“Now I wonder if the $700 000 is going to be enough to do that job. I will put it on record now, I’ll be most surprised if we don’t go over budget with that job.”
Mayor Paul Harmon agreed with Cr Berryman that there was a long history to the TCRP and said it grew from an early report on ongoing maintenance in the CBD.
“We were going down and we were doing a bit of a hodge podge job, constantly patching up the damage from the plane trees. So council said instead of just doing reactive maintenance, that’s costing money, how do we actually address the issue properly?” he said.
“A consultant was engaged to say how do we actually renew our CBD and save council from having to go over and over again, fixing the same thing over and over again.”
He said there were numerous discussions and three arborist reports, which were peer reviewed.
“To this day, nobody has actually been able to say ‘how do we save the plane trees that were inappropriately planted without losing car parks and causing more damage?’” he said.
Cr Harmon said there was similar controversy when the street went through a renewal in the 1990s.
“I find it ironic that people that were up in arms before saying ‘don’t plant them’, are now saying ‘no don’t take them out,’” he said.
“The staff aren’t silly. The staff have all the capabilities and plans. This is how things work in sequence.”
Cr Peters thanked Cr Harmon and Cr Berryman for their “history lesson”, but maintained that their points were irrelevant to his motion.
“At the end of the day, we live in country Australia because we care about people and we like to understand and look after each other. I just find it pretty bloody callous that we’re going to go in, we’re going to have a major impact on these businesses, and we don’t seem to care too much about it,” he said.
“I think it is irresponsible not to understand what the economic impact’s going to be on those people and how council can go about trying to mitigate that impact.”
Several community members left in anger when the motion to perform an EIS was lost.